By Christina Rivers
The Pittsburgh Steelers looked like they may be in early trouble against the Baltimore Ravens at Heinz Field on Sunday night, going down 7-0 with little offensive response. Coming off of a record-breaking performance, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger got the help he needed from his defense and led Pittsburgh’s offense with six passing touchdowns. Cody Wallace’s scrum following a PAT by Shaun Suisham simply put an exclamation point on a grudge match that always gets physical, even when the whistle has blown the play dead. With the win, the Steelers move to 6-3 on the season and split their series with the Ravens in 2014.
Pittsburgh needed cool heads from their coaching staff during their second meeting with the Ravens in the 2014 season, even if it was just to keep their players from drawing silly penalties as the game moved from physical to the semblance to a rugby scrum. A slow offensive start was adjusted once the defense threw several different blitz packages from Dick LeBeau’s bag of tricks at Joe Flacco. Ben Roethlisberger took one on the chin, literally, but was communicative with the bench in making necessary movements to open up the offense. The game took creativity to succeed, and barring the dismal first quarter, the Steelers coaching staff kept their players focused on the win.
Ben Roethlisberger did what he does best despite being sacked three plays in a row – he got up and led. The running game wasn’t effective against a very strong Baltimore defensive front who was throwing everything they could at the Steelers’ offensive line. Even with additional blocking, the front of the Steelers offense took a beating. That meant that Roethlisberger had to get creative. Roethlisberger started getting the ball out quicker, finding mismatches and took advantage. In back-to-back weeks, ‘Big Ben’ was able to throw for six touchdowns.
Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount had to play bigger roles in the receiving game than the rushing game in week nine, but they proved to be valuable as Roethlisberger was constantly under pressure. Receivers Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton stepped up their play and gave Antonio Brown the ability to get one-on-one coverage and make several open-field moves after snagging the ball. Tight end Matt Spaeth added a touchdown late in the game and was key in a botched field goal hold by Brad Wing, catching Wing’s right-handed pass for a two-point conversion.
The offense wasn’t pretty. It allowed too much pressure from the Baltimore defense, couldn’t eat up yardage on the ground and became one-sided by having to once again count on the arm of Roethlisberger and the hands of receivers to score. In an ugly game, the offense did what had to be done, but it wasn’t their best performance. They didn’t have a spark until the second quarter once again, but came back in small bursts of efficient and effective play. When Baltimore knocked, the Steelers answered by putting more points on the board. Once they got ahead, they never trailed again and that is something Pittsburgh needs to continue.
Time to throw everyone who complained about the “old” defense under a taxi and save the bus fair because James Harrison and Brett Keisel showed exactly why it was smart to bring them back in this game. Harrison took advantage of Keisel’s big-bodied blocking by setting up stunt-blitzes and getting to Flacco for two sacks. Keisel showed incredible leadership as the game got so out of control that the officials had to stop it and consult the coaching staff of both teams regarding unnecessary roughness and flagrant fighting long after plays were blown dead. Keisel pulled his teammates away from confrontations and kept telling them to be smart. In the end, the Ravens were penalized 108 total yards.
From the combination of Cam Heyward and Steve McLendon up front to good play by the linebackers and defensive backfield, solid play made the difference in this game. The first quarter was owned by Baltimore, but by the beginning of the second quarter, the Steelers played in a way that even Joe Greene would be proud of. Brice McCain was the benefactor of an Arthur Moats strip-fumble and Jason Worilds picked off a Flacco pass to make the “D” once again dominant in Pittsburgh. Lawrence Timmons added a sack to his team-leading seven tackles. Antwon Blake recovered from an early mistake in coverage to be effective at corner.
If there is one area on this Steelers team that appears to need addressing the most for it’s ineffective efforts this season, it is the special teams. This week was another example of almost no effort on kickoff or punt returns. It isn’t clear that Pittsburgh has placed any emphasis on this unit, looking at their core players on offense and defense to make the difference instead. Wing gets a small nod for being smart enough to pick up a poor hold to throw a pass for a two-point conversion and improving his punting efforts. Shaun Suisham continues to be the strongest part of this entire unit.
The lack of returned balls wasn’t the worst thing for this unit on Sunday. Allowing Jacoby Jones to return a kickoff 108 yards for a touchdown was just plain ugly. The Ravens were able to seal every block to get Jones into the open field where not a single Steelers player could get close enough for a try at a shoe-string tackle. Jones’ touchdown return kept the Ravens in the game, and that is never a plus.
There were high points and low moments in this game. Overall, the Steelers did not play a memorable game, but they worked together to get a much-needed AFC North win. Any win against the Ravens is a morale booster, but this game helped Pittsburgh seal the deal on a three-game home stand with nothing but wins. The Steelers put together a solid performance in response to what they knew was going to be a bruising grudge match in the trenches. Give the Steelers credit for trying to rise above the fray for the most part. The Steelers move one step closer to pressuring Cincinnati for the AFC North title, and for that, the team earned back a lot of the respect they’d lost early in the 2014 NFL season.
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Christina Rivers has covered the Pittsburgh Steelers and National Football League professionally as a reporter and photographer for over a decade. Rivers studied exercise physiology and sports psychology at Brigham Young University as a student-athlete. Christina is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. Her work can be found on